Jumbo: I’m so excited. I could barely sleep from last night. We had our listening party last night in our hometown. I couldn’t sleep. It’s like before your first day of school. I’m very excited right now.
Your sophomore album Gutterfly is finally out. Are you happy with how it came out?
Jumbo: I’m very happy. I was complaining to the fellas that I wanted to put it out sooner but from the response, I guess it was worth the wait. We really wanted to just get it out. We felt like time was ticking. We hadn’t hit the road in a while and we were really getting anxious, like, ‘Are we going to put something out or what?’ It seems like we timed it perfectly and the reception is great. A lot of songs that didn’t make the record could have went on it, but I feel like if we put it on it, the record would have been too long. I feel like it’s just right.
Are you happy with the fans’ response to Gutterfly so far?
Vursatyl: Yeah, actually the response is overwhelming. From the response we’ve gotten from the press and from the fans so far, it’s been great. People are coming up to us and calling our record a classic. Those are compliments that you aspire to. Who knows if that will stick, but just the fact that people will mention our record amongst other records is a compliment. This isn’t something that you can plan for. You just try to make the music you want to and deliver the vision that you have. For people to be so open to what we’re doing, it’s great. We’re having a good time so far.
What was it like putting Gutterfly together?
Jumbo: It was interesting. Since there was such a long stretch of time, the song with dead prez, “Freedom Walk,” was two years old. We were over in Istanbul and me, Vurs and Shines were bugging out to some music and I ran up on this record by Aphrodite’s Child. I just started zoning out to it. It’s kind of like a musical. It’s kind of like a musical or a play or something like that. It kind of brought me into this thing of wanting to keep the record epic and clever. That’s how we came up with the blaxploitation thing. We started zoning out to the blaxploitation films and we related to some of the characters. We thought we were onto something. The first song that we started with was “Shine Language.” That and “Freedom Walk” are real epic. We saw that we could do some real cinematic writing there, jump into the characters and still be relative. The characters are very relative to the Lifesavas characters. That’s kind of what started the process, really.
You had a lot of funk in the production this time around. Why?
Jumbo: It’s funny that you say “funk,” because at the time that we were creating the record, a lot of cats were debating over what producers had the most soul. Cats were sampling a lot of soul records and we were looking for soul records. I said, “You know what, Vurs and Shines? I think we need to bring back the funk in hip-hop.” We were zoning out to Parliament Funkadelic. We were zoning out to the tracks that were real funky, soulful and edgy. We worked with George Clinton on “Night Out” and I said, “You know what? I think we can blend together some groundbreaking collaborations in there.” We reached out to the legendary Fishbone and bridged the gap between George Clinton and Fishbone.
We just kind of kept going. The more we started writing songs, the ones we were picking started sounding funkier and funkier. We started reaching out to our peers that we felt were the funkiest, like my man from Digable Planets. Of course you can’t do anything with a hint of blaxploitation without getting down with my peoples Camp Lo. From there, it just kind of jumped off. We wanted to keep it boom-bap hip-hop, but in order to bring in the funk side of it, we had to bring in some live instrumentation.
The title track, “Gutterfly,” is an afrobeat sample. From there, we just kept saying, ‘Man, it’s really stringing together.’ We’re covering the funkiest parts of all these genres of music. The way we compiled it had us feeling like it was really coming together. We had to find the right representation for the voices to make these all stick together. We pulled Ike Lewis in and you know how funky he was when he was working with Frank Zappa. It was working and it was starting to feel like something. We wanted to do the rebirth of funk in hip-hop. One of the funkiest joints in hip-hop to me is Jeru the Damaja’s joint “Come Clean.” I wanted to make something like that but different. And Redman and Method Man are two of the funkiest MCs. That’s how we approached “The Warning.”
How important was it for you to have George Clinton on “One Night Out”?
Jumbo: Honestly, at first, we were like, ‘That song ‘Night Out,’ we don’t know if that can make the record.’ We weren’t trying to make it a single or anything. Once George liked it and got on it, we had that stamp of approval. If George tells you that it’s the real funk, then you know that you did it right. We plan on doing some more things with George, but he’s so busy. But working with George opened us up to the cats that he works with. We’re supposed to talk to George more and learn some of those crazy stories about Parliament. It was really a blessing and honor. Once he stepped up, no matter what anybody else said, we had a funky album.
What was it like recording with George Clinton?
Jumbo: We weren’t in the same room when we recorded it. It took him no time to do it. He heard the track and loved it. We didn’t want to tell him what to do. It’s George Clinton! We wanted him to do what he does. Once George showed us what he did, it was on. He didn’t even ask us if we liked it. He was just like, ‘Here you go.’ (laughs)
What was it like recording “Gutterfly” with Camp Lo?
Jumbo: “Gutterfly” with me and Vurs was really a long time coming. We wanted to show that on the first record, but we felt like we wanted to wait for the second record. As Lifesavas, we have our own slang and slick talking and how we get down. Once we made the track, we were like, ‘We have to get Camp Lo on this.’ Cheeba was like, ‘It’s nothing. Just send me the track.’ We wanted to do it together but our schedules wouldn’t allow it. They added the lyrics and they were only supposed to do real short verses, but they were feeling the track so much that they went longer.
We knew that that had to be the title track. Sometimes you don’t want to put the pressure on yourself to title the song what the album is because that puts pressure on the song. But once we finished the song with Camp Lo, we could have put an exclamation point on it. This was the record! With these cats, we’re cut from the same cloth. They have their fans and they have their way of doing things and we have our way of doing us, but you see the marriage of it made a great song.
What was it like working with Fishbone on “Dead Ones”?
Jumbo: That was mind-blowing. Just you asking me that question is sending chills up my spine. I got goosebumps right now. With that song, that was interesting because we got to record in each other’s studios. We went down to Venice Beach and we got to just hang out and spend the day with Angelo Moore. He had his daughter over there. He was talking and we just really wanted to hear how Fishbone was doing their thing and how they came together. We got to learn some things.
Angelo Moore was telling us how Fishbone started. We really got history about how things influenced a lot of the great musicians of our time. People talk about Prince being one of the greatest musicians alive right now. Angelo is one of the greatest musicians of our time. You know that when he’s playing the harmonica and Prince is asking him how to do that. Angelo’s showing him how to do it and Prince wouldn’t give the harmonica back to him. Fishbone are rock legends. They should be in the Hall of Fame.
Originally on the song, we’re talking about homeless people and people that feel like they can’t dream no more and how they lost their dreams. As we talked about the song and as we were building, Angelo was sharing some things about how he lost a family member and we talked about our experiences too.
We were working with a recording veteran and we just bounced off each other. The song took no time. We said we would put down the rest up in Portland. They shot in and came up to our studio. Angelo was dressed like he was on stage with the suspenders. He goes in the booth and he just starts laying stuff down. He’s just schooling us. Shines left and walked back in and sometimes you forget who you’re working with. He was starstruck. He couldn’t believe that Angelo was in our booth. They deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. It was definitely a blessing working with them.
Do you look at coming from Portland as a challenge?
Jumbo: Yeah, definitely. We like the challenge, as artists, because there are things that happen in hip-hop that are stagnant and boring. We want to be challenged. There are so many things that people are talking about, like we’re from Portland, we’re going to have a sophomore jinx and how we should do the hyphy thing. We were like, ‘Nah, we have to do the Lifesavas sound.’ This is how we get down out here. We felt like we had to show the rest of the world what we were doing. We studied what everybody else was doing and we knew it was time. That pushed us to push ourselves to try and create a timeless album.
What is the Portland sound?
Jumbo: Man, the Portland sound is Gutterfly. It really didn’t have a name to it, but since we’re blessed to kick the door down…There’s cats that came before us, like Cool Nutz. He’s one of the catalysts of the city. There are other artists, but as far as bringing the Portland sound to the rest of the world, I would say Cool Nutz and Lifesavas is what the Portland sound is.
Why do you guys call Portland the ‘Razorblade City’?
Jumbo: Because it’s the home of the cutthroats. When you come from a small town, sometimes it imitates larger cites. Some people want to get out but they don’t have the knowledge to get out. It’s the crabs in a bucket mentality. Once they see you making some progress, they try to pull you down. They don’t want to see you make it and they want to keep you with them. In the ‘hood, there was a lot of things going on. The black community here is real close-knit. We felt like we had to come together and put a name to it. We have to think together. We had to give it a title. There’s really a lot of racial profiling with the police. There are extra police in our precinct in our neighborhood and they’re just harassing brothers. They’re shooting at brothers and brothers are shooting back. Not the Lifesavas per se, but brothers in the ‘hood aren’t taking that. You have cats that don’t care no more. There stabbing each other in the back and nobody can make it out doing anything else, let alone music. We felt like that title was the perfect title to name the city in terms of the place where the movie Gutterfly went down.
I kicked it with Cool Nutz a few years ago. How important is Cool Nutz to Portland?
Jumbo: Man, my brother Cool Nutz, aka Terrence Scott…My man Vursatyl said it best. He said, “People try to pin a certain genre of hip-hop against another.” People call Cool Nutz’ music “gangster rap” or “block music” and they call is “conscious” or “backpack” or “head music.” We do everything together. We play ball with Cool Nutz. We get down. He gives other groups around the city the chance to get up and perform in front of people. We did shows together and we were able to be catalysts and show people that we can perform together. It’s kind of like back in the day when EPMD and Too Short would tour together. He’s been a catalyst to the Portland scene and we have a lot of work to do together. He’s about to do his thing with E40. We love that brother forever. We’re still working together. The Lifesavas and Cool Nutz are the catalysts of the Portland movement. He’s been real important to us.
What potential does Portland have as a hip-hop city?
Vursatyl: I think Portland has a lot of potential. There are a lot of great artists and there always have been. We have conscious music to gothic hip-hop to a more gangster style of hip-hop.
How important has Chief Xcel been to your career?
Vursatyl: Huge. He’s the Prince Paul to our De La Soul. In terms of what we do as artists, there are a lot of things that he’s done to give us the freedom to do what we do. He’s like our Dilla in our musical career.
Did you do anything differently on Gutterfly than you did on your first album Spirit in Stone?
Vursatyl: We approached this record with a lot more freedom. We were a lot freer on this. We had more concepts to stand behind and we stood behind the theme of it. We talked about various subjects. We also wanted to align ourselves with certain artists. It was just a whole new chapter for us. Musically, we branched out. We had live instrumentation on this. In every regard, we just looked at it as the opportunity for us to recreate the picture of who we are.
Would you consider Spirit in Stone a success today?
Vursatyl: I thought it was a tremendous success. Our goal for Spirit in Stone was to sell 10,000 albums.
Vurs, will you drop another solo project?
Vursatyl: Yeah. I’m definitely working on some solo stuff. I’m already about 15 songs into what could turn out to be an album. It’s very important, I think, for an artist to be able to express himself. The cool thing about doing a solo project is that you still see Jumbo and Shines on my solo record. Jumbo has really been the catalyst to me doing a solo record. It’s just good because we can get other ideas out there. It’s just a good vehicle for us to branch out.
How are you gauging the success of Gutterfly?
Vursatyl: We want the record to reach people. But more than anything, for us coming from Portland, we’re already a success in the sense that the album sparked creativity among artists where we come from. We meet people on the road and it’s opening up more doors. It’s reintroducing people to the idea that we don’t have to be monolithic in making hip-hop music. We’re trying to keep creativity alive in the music. I feel like it’s a success. We’re making fans realize the visual affect of Gutterfly and we’re making the fans see where we can go with the creativity that we have.
What advice would you offer to up-and-coming artists coming from smaller cities?
Vursatyl: We were just talking about this yesterday. I think the biggest thing is for the artist to fall in love with making music and to just be passionate when making music. Don’t get caught up in making an album and putting it out. Just perfect your craft. Make good music. Once you accomplish that and as you grow as an artist, it will be a natural evolution to record and find a vehicle for your music. A lot of cats are so focused on getting a record deal that it kind of overrides their creative journey. Focus on what’s important, and that’s the music, first and foremost.
What do you want to say to everybody?
Vursatyl: Thanks for the support. I think you’ll definitely be happy with this album.